Just returned from a trip to Daegu and Jeolla province.
The autumn is beautiful here, and finally, as we drove from the East side of the country to the West, I was able to take in the mountains, which are bountiful here. November 12th is the day my Grandmother on my Mom’s side passed away. We had a ceremony for her memorial, visited her and my Grandfather’s tombs, which sit on a small mountainside overlooking the city of Daegu.
The trip to Jeolla was particularly special since this is where my Mother’s family is from. There we visited the tombs of two Great Aunts and Great Grandmother. My Grandfather (김익진) was a well known and revered Catholic teacher in this town. He once owned land here, but as the country was factioning off into separate nationalist parties, he followed his instincts and parceled the land away to the people of the town, while also donating part of it for a church to be built. The family moved to Daegu just before the beginning of the Korean War – my Mom was about six years old. My Aunt tells me when the Communists arrived, one of the first people they asked for was Grandfather.
His brother is Kim, Woo-Jin. I have heard many stories about this man, who is my great Uncle. From what I understand, he was a nationalist playwright, a nihilist, and also was one of the first Koreans to write about Western theatre. He met a Korean woman while studying in Japan, also a nationalist, and they fell in love. At the time he was betrothed to another woman, and due to the strictness of Korean custom, they knew they could not fulfill a life together and disappeared – most people believe by suicide; drowning in the waters between Korean and Japan. There is a film out there, and perhaps another one to be made, about his story…
The last part of the visit was spent with my Gomo (my Aunt on my Father’s side), and my cousin – such very good people who I love dearly. Tracing the lines of family has been an incredibly fulfilling part of this venture to Korea. Our lives are embedded in history in such intimate ways – things we forget or take for granted while living in America — a place that feels so far away from here.